Blumenthal begins a long-awaited offensive against McMahon

Democrat Richard Blumenthal began a long-awaited offensive in the U.S. Senate race Friday night with a commercial saying that Republican Linda McMahon is falsely accusing him of supporting an “energy tax.”

In his first TV spot to mention McMahon, Blumenthal rebuts what he calls a misrepresentation of his record and attacks McMahon’s self-financed campaign and her record at World Wrestling Entertainment.

While the ad focuses on one issue, the broader context is that Blumenthal finally doing what many Democrats have been waiting for: He’s directly engaging an opponent who is within 6 percentage-points in a recent poll.

Even before winning the Republican primary five weeks ago, McMahon began hammering Blumenthal on issues such as his inaccurate descriptions of his military service and his support of the health care reform bill, focusing on the theme, “He’s not who we thought he was.”

McMahon, seeking her first elective office, has spent about $25 million of her own money so far, and has closed the gap with Blumenthal from as much as 40 percentage points in early polling. Although some analysts say McMahon will have a hard time making further inroads on Blumenthal’s support, noted political handicapper Charlie Cook now rates the race a toss-up.

Until now, Blumenthal’s limited advertising has emphasized his long record as a crusading attorney general, and has said little about McMahon. His campaign says the latest ad delivers on Blumenthal’s promise to “correct the record” when necessary.

The Blumenthal campaign is responding to a McMahon radio ad and Web video accusing Blumenthal of supporting “an energy tax” that would drive up the cost of electricity in Connecticut.

“More false attacks from Linda McMahon’s $50 million campaign,” an announcer in his new ad says over a montage of past McMahon attacks on Blumenthal.  “The truth is Dick Blumenthal stopped nearly $1 billion in utility rate hikes, and  supports cutting taxes for the middle class.”

McMahon’s claim is based on a letter Blumenthal signed with three other attorneys general urging the Senate last summer to pass a complex House “cap-and-trade” bill limiting greenhouse gases and encouraging alternative energy.

But the Blumenthal campaign says the bill contains no direct tax on energy and that Connecticut, which relies on relatively clean-burning natural gas to generate electricity, could actually see costs drop under such a system.

Under cap-and-trade plans, limits are set on greenhouse gas emissions, which could drive up costs, especially in states that rely on cheap, dirtier fuels such as coal.

“We’re one of the cleanest-burning fuel states in the country,” said Ty Matsdorf, a spokesman for the Blumenthal campaign.

Connecticut already participates in a regional cap-and-trade system, something the McMahon campaign apparently doesn’t understand, Matsdorf said.

Ed Patru, a spokesman for McMahon, said the campaign was justified in referring to an energy tax.

“It’s broadly known as a national energy tax,” he said. “That’s what cap and trade is all about.”

Blumenthal’s claim that he saved consumers from $1 billion in rate hikes is based on his opposition to rate hikes, some of which were reduced by state utility regulators.

Claiming he saved consumers from the hikes is debatable. It is difficult to ascribe those reductions solely to Blumethal’s intervention, just as it would be difficult crediting one piece of evidence for a judge’s verdict.

Aside from the effort to rebut the energy-tax claim, the Blumenthal ad also begins a broader counter attack on McMahon, the nature of her self-financed campaign and her business practices.

It contrasts dividend income she derived from her holdings in World Wrestling Entertaining, the company she co-founded, with a round of job cutbacks.

“McMahon just doesn’t get it. She laid off 10 percent of her work force, but still took home $46 million a year,” the announcer says.

A voter appears on camera and underscores the point by saying, “We certainly don’t need anybody in the Senate who s going to treat the people like that.”